We’ve heard it said that “A BFA is the new MBA.” While we can’t vouch for the legitimacy of that, it’s an intriguing statement. Why would anyone say that, besides to annoy MBAs? A BFA could be better than a MBA, perhaps, because someone who studies art is usually trained to think creatively...and you need people who can think creatively if you want your business to succeed. Too often in business it’s easy to fall into a rut where it seems like there is only one way to do something, and that’s when bad things start to happen.
There can be a lot of value in learning and replicating formulas that work—especially as a starting point. But if you really want your brand and your company to stand out, you’re going to have to do things that are different. You’re going to need some creativity. And that’s what we’re here to help with! Don’t worry, you don’t have to go back to school. We know you still have nightmares about that. Rest easy! Here are some tips for how to build and maintain a creative culture in your own workplace.
Hire Diverse Talent
Look for people with diverse backgrounds during the hiring process. You are probably already aware of diversity when it comes to a candidate’s age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, looks, and/or disability. Considering diversity can help people who might otherwise be discriminated against, but it’s also going to help increase the creativity and innovation at your company.
Creativity is just thinking about things in ways they haven’t been thought about before. When you hire people from diverse backgrounds you get fresh perspectives. Different cultures, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and different outward appearances lead to different experiences in their lifetime, and those experiences enrich your own as you interact and work with such individuals.
However, it’s not just individuals bringing new ideas. Diversity raises the quality of thinking across the whole team. A study done at Tufts University with jurors showed that “diverse juries deliberated longer, raised more facts about the case, and conducted broader and more wide-ranging deliberations.” When different people collaborate together you get a more holistic view of the issues at hand. Hopefully you don’t have to form any juries in your workplace, but the principle applies whether you’re trying to decide if someone is innocent or figure out your priority for Q2.
Diversity in the workplace also means looking at people who don’t meet the exact requirements of your job description. Many people have successfully taken experience from one job and applied to another job. So, while you may want people with lots of experience in the exact position you’re hiring for, don’t write people off who are just starting in your particular industry. Studies show bringing in new people brings in new ideas. And that’s what we like to call growth.
No Bad Ideas
Now that you’ve hired the right people and are diversifying your workforce, let people bring their perspective to the table. Creativity thrives when given space to do so. Be open to ideas that go against the way you normally do things. Our work environments aren’t like school where there are standardized tests, there’s no one right answer.
Many times the most creative ideas are ones that receive a lot of skepticism, but you don’t want to be the person to say no to a great idea just because it’s a little out there, right? Imagine being one of the publishers that passed on the Harry Potter series—all because you said no to an idea that was a little out there.
Obviously, some ideas may be unrealistic or unfeasible based on monetary or time constraints. Some ideas just aren’t good in practice, but to get creativity flowing you need to have a “no bad ideas'' stage in your processes. Like they say, there are no bad ideas when brainstorming. Bad ideas are just building blocks to good ones. Encourage your team to let out ideas even when they know they are bad. They may spark thoughts that lead to really good ideas.
Our creative team at Awardco has weekly meetings where the sole purpose is to throw out ideas—any idea at all. By brainstorming together our small team can come up with big ideas, and we absolutely have. Not every idea sticks, but it usually leads to really great ideas.
Awardco’s VP of product development also encourages everyone, even on their first day at the company, to speak up if they have any ideas for improving the product or new features that could be implemented. Not every idea gets used, but they’re all considered.
Whether it’s a weekly meeting, a suggestion box, a Slack channel, or something else, set up a way to collect ideas from people across the company. Plus, as you make an effort to listen, employees will feel more engaged in their work.
Remember: don’t micromanage. You don’t always have the best ideas. Maybe sometimes you do, but not always.
Steal Like an Artist
If you struggle with creating—like I am while trying to finish this blog post—try looking at what other people are doing.
In the book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, author Austin Kleon reminds us that even seemingly original ideas come from inspiration found somewhere. We all, in a way, stand on the shoulders of giants. And that is never more true than when creating something new.
Follow people on social media that inspire you. You don’t want to scroll endlessly, but browsing what other people are doing can spark your own creativity. Especially if you follow people with different perspectives or backgrounds than you.
Pro tip: If you’re marketing to a specific audience, seek out those people on social media and see what they’re posting about, what they care about, and what their interests are. You might just be inspired.
It’s good to give people freedom and space to be creative, there’s no doubt about that. However, remember that limitations can also help spur innovative thinking. Give your team a list of constraints and encourage them to work with them. You can be creative on a budget with limited resources— and doing so often makes you more creative.
For example, you might think you need a huge budget to make a training or recruitment video. While it does help to have money so you can afford cool locations, stunt coordinators, miniature horses, elaborate costumes, puppeteers, musical numbers, etc., if you have a creative idea people will usually overlook your lack of pyrotechnics or other expensive elements.
Many startups have started small and still had big success. Think less about what you can’t do and what you can do. Some people will comment on the quality of your work, but most people will remember the ideas you present to them.
People often have breakthroughs while on a walk, in the shower, or driving away from work. It’s beneficial to give your mind a break while focusing on creative tasks. And this isn’t just an excuse to take more breaks—it’s backed by research:
“The group given a break to work on an unrelated task (the Myers-Briggs test) generated the most ideas, averaging 9.8 ideas. The group given a break to work on a related task placed second, averaging 7.6 ideas generated. The group given no break but four continuous minutes of work time generated the least possible uses, averaging 6.9 ideas. The research team had validated the idea that incubation periods, even those as brief as a few minutes, can significantly boost a person’s creative output.”
So, mix up your surroundings. Change something about your work environment. Take that break. Try facing a different colored wall, or move to a different part of the room. Go outside for a while. Encourage your team to schedule breaks if they’re not good at taking them on their own. Remind them it’s not a waste of time—it will, in fact, increase their productivity.
And Now, a Shameless Plug
You probably knew this was coming, but we believe recognition in the workplace can help with creativity, too. Recognizing others for their work can energize their minds, facilitate greater motivation, and foster creativity when people see their work is noticed. And let’s be honest, what better way to let employees exercise creativity than letting them choose their own swag and rewards? With Awardco you can reward your employees with points they can redeem however they want, including a company store with branded items.
Creativity is one of the best spices of life, whether that’s at work or attempting a DIY project from Pinterest. Being creative with how you live, work, and play can bring success in many facets of life, and shouldn’t be ignored. Hopefully with the suggestions above you’ll find more creativity in your own workplace, and who knows? Maybe some of that will spill out and benefit other parts of your life.